The mistake F1 fans make, says veteran driver David Coulthard, is to kid themselves they’re watching a sport.
If they’d only remember it’s 90 per cent business then everything would make a lot more sense.
His latest column for ITV’s F1 website also sees him reflect on his own experience of team orders, how he motivates himself if he’s at the back of the grid, and the erratic way in which F1’s rules are enforced.
Following the Hungarian Grand Prix, at which the relationship between McLaren drivers Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso hit a new low, he discussed the situation with former world champion Damon Hill, his former team-mate.
“Both Damon and I have been in similar situations in the past,” he said. “He was instructed not to race with Alain Prost when he joined Williams in 1993, while I was in a situation where I was told to let Damon past when we were team-mates in 1994 and 1995, and I faced the same thing with Mika Hakkinen at McLaren.
“Damon and I concluded that when we were in that position, we felt we would be compromising our position within the team if we went against instructions. Lewis and Fernando have clearly taken the position that they don’t agree with it, therefore they are not prepared to give an inch.”
He thinks the dispute between McLaren’s drivers has caused controversy because of a general misunderstanding about how F1 works: “The root cause of the media backlash behind McLaren’s problems this year is the perception — in the public eye at least — that Formula 1 is still a sport.”
He said: “If you actually called it what the teams consider it to be, which is a business, then it would be easier to understand and accept the actions of the people involved. Ron Dennis is running a business; he is not running the England football team where he can be fired by public opinion.
“The public can complain all it likes but you’ve got to understand that F1 is 90 per cent business and 10 per cent sport.”
However, he thinks the 10 per cent that remains is still the world’s greatest buzz, despite some poor race positions: “People have frequently asked me – and in fact Damon did on Sunday – how I can still be motivated by those sorts of results when I have won 13 grands prix.
“But the bottom line is obvious. I love racing, and I loved racing on Sunday. So would you if you were driving an F1 car.
“Only a motivated driver can understand what it feels like to start a grand prix. To thread that needle at high speed running down to turn one, to roll the dice strategically to gain places.”
He finished back in 11th place in Hungary, but still derived satisfaction from the action: “At the start I lost a place to Heikki Kovalainen off the line, I then gained three places into turn one. I re-passed Kovalainen, Trulli and my team-mate Mark Webber. I then lost two places to Kovalainen and Mark through turn two, because I went to the inside and Mark went on the outside so I got boxed in.
“But my point is that it was a great piece of excitement and showed that I am a racer. I didn’t go down into turn one and think: “Oh f***, it all looks too busy.” I was in there battling with race-hungry guys like myself, winning places.
“You derive immense satisfaction from that. Try and imagine what it is like to be able to race a grand prix car lap after lap after lap, every other weekend. How could I not be motivated by that?”